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Orgasms: You Can't Fake it Till You Make It

Why 53 - 67% of women fake orgasms

More men think their partners are having orgasms than are having them. A recent study conducted at Indiana University found that 64% of women reported having an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, while 85% of men believed their partner had an orgasm the last time they had sex.

Shedding light on this discrepancy are studies on faking orgasms. Across several studies, the results are strikingly consistent: 53% to 67% of women report faking orgasm. As just one example, in a study of over 3,000 women who returned questionnaires distributed by mail and popular magazines, 53% said "yes" to the question "Do you ever fake orgasms?" Similarly, a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 67% of 101 college women reported faking orgasm. The overwhelming majority who faked did so during intercourse.

When researchers ask women why they fake orgasm during intercourse, they mention doing so to avoid hurting their partner's feelings, to build their partner's egos, or to meet their partner's expectations. Another frequently mentioned reason is because they want sex to end. Women also say that they fake orgasm so as to not appear abnormal or inadequate.

If more women knew what normal was, they wouldn't need to fake orgasm. The now famous Hite Report conducted in the 1970's revealed that a mere 26% of over 3,000 women reported that they experienced orgasm during intercourse when there was no accompanying clitoral stimulation. A more recent study, conducted by Glamour magazine in 2000 found strikingly similar results: Only 28% of women said they could orgasm from intercourse alone. Of the 1,500 women in the Glamour study, 38% said they need manual stimulation of the clitoris to orgasm, 21% said they need oral sex, and 3% said they need a vibrator. The conclusion from this research is clear: Most women require direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm.

The key to why women need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm is found in basic anatomy. The more nerve endings an area has, the more sensitive it is. The clitoris has more nerve endings than anywhere else in a woman's body. The vagina doesn't have nearly as many nerve endings. This is why when researchers ask women how they masturbate, most report touching their clitoris--not their vagina! Several authors have also pointed out that it would be a problem to have a particularly sensitive vagina when giving birth.

So, how does all this translate into women's orgasms or the research discussed earlier about women faking the big-O so often? During intercourse, a man's penis (his primary erogenous zone) is being directly stimulated by the walls of his partner's vagina, whereas a woman's primary erogenous zone is only indirectly stimulated in an inconsistent manner. (For details on how women's clitoris is indirectly stimulated during intercourse, see The Truth about Vaginal Orgasms or the chapter on Touch in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex). Indirect stimulation of the clitoris isn't enough for most women to reach orgasm, and that is why more than 70% of women cannot orgasm from intercourse alone. Although some experts claim that orgasms during intercourse are due to the elusive G-spot, an equally large and reputable group of experts assert that vaginal orgasms aren't due to anything in the vagina at all: they are the result of stimulation to the internal structures of the clitoris or from the motion of vaginal penetration pulling on or rubbing against the clitoris. In this view, all female orgasms are due to clitoral stimulation.

Sadly, however, many women and men continue to believe that women "should" orgasm during intercourse, or that this is somehow a superior way to climax. A recent study examining women's reasons for faking orgasm suggests adherence to a sexual script, or belief system, in which it is thought that the model scenario is as follows: The woman orgasms, ideally during intercourse, and then the man orgasms and sex is over. While I discussed the problems of defining sex by the man's orgasm in a prior Psychology Today Blog, Re-Defining Foreplay, the implications for faking orgasm are clear: Women fake because of their and their partners' inaccurate belief that they are supposed to climax during intercourse. To avoid feeling abnormal or hurting their partner's feelings, women settle for a fake, rather than a real, orgasm.

While the psychological advice "Fake it Till You Make It" may work for activities that require building self-confidence, it won't work for reaching orgasm. Faking orgasm during intercourse is not going to lead to real orgasms during intercourse. Achieving real orgasms require accurate information and good communication. The most important tip for sexual satisfaction is to know what you like and to be able to tell your partner. In terms of orgasms, for most women this means knowing how you like your clitoris to be touched (before, during, after, or separate from intercourse) and letting your partner know this. Good information on learning your own body can be found in the book, Becoming Orgasmic. Importantly, how a woman likes to be touched can vary from encounter to encounter; for some women at some times direct clitoral stimulation may feel uncomfortable. This is why being able to tell your partner what you like is so important. Useful communication tips can be found in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex.

When it comes to orgasms, don't be a disappointed statistic. Don't be among the 65% of women who fake orgasms because they don't know that over 70% of women can't orgasm from intercourse alone.

More from Laurie Mintz Ph.D.
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